Posts Tagged ‘Communalism’

Understanding Communalism: The Past is No Guide to the Present

October 14, 2012

By Anjum Altaf

The present in South Asia is messy, gruesome and unpleasant; no wonder we keep referring back to the past to make sense of it. Most of the time, however, we end up distorting the past to craft seamless narratives that accord with our current sensibilities. I will argue in this essay that there is no such continuity to be crafted and enter a plea for the past to be left alone. (more…)

Telling the Wrong Story in Gujarat

October 17, 2011

Too Much Secularism is a Dangerous Thing

By Dipankar Gupta

Is the Congress afraid of winning in Gujarat?

Nothing else explains why it lets Narendra Modi tom-tom development when it should have been the Congress banging the drums. The economic achievements of governments before Modi’s read like an award citation, but too much secularism has since led the Congress astray. Instead of showcasing its past performance to regain Gujarat, it is obsessed with nailing Modi as a communalist-in-chief. Naturally, it is not getting anywhere fast.

Look also at the good memories the Congress is erasing away.

In 1991, a full ten years before Modi arrived, as many as 17,940 out of 18,028 villages were already electrified. (more…)

Democracy in India – 8: Dissecting the Election

May 20, 2009

Seen as separate events both the 2004 and the 2009 elections in India surprised the analysts and the political parties as well. But is it possible that seen in tandem the surprise falls away and a perfectly plausible story can be told?

Let me attempt such a broad-brush explanation before fleshing out the story:

In 2004, there was an anti-incumbency sentiment but no one magnet to which the disaffected were attracted resulting in a scattering of the vote and a fractured outcome. In 2009, there was a pro-incumbency sentiment with a clear recipient of the goodwill yielding a much more consolidated outcome. (more…)

Similar and Different: Black and White

April 12, 2009

In an earlier post we had referred to two very recent books that highlighted the crucial role of education in inflaming relations between communities in multi-ethnic and multi-national countries.

Some very candid comments by Vinod alerted us to the fact that socialization at home plays an equally important role in forming our opinions of others in the community – whether we see them as different from us and, if so, what values we attach to the differences.

This raises the obvious question of the relationship between socialization at home and education in schools. In searching for an answer, Dr. Meenakshi Thapan (Department of Scociology, University of Delhi) pointed us to the recent work of Latika Gupta on this subject. (more…)

Similar and Different: Good and Evil

April 7, 2009

The last post in this series had highlighted the emergence of religious fundamentalism in Pakistan and religious nationalism in India. I took the position that there was near consensus on the cause of the phenomenon in Pakistan while it was much more difficult to provide a convincing explanation in the case of India. The plan was to make an attempt at an explanation in this post.

Comments from Vinod have altered the plan and forced a step back. There is a legacy of communal prejudice that needs an explanation in its own right before we can move on to more recent phenomena. So this post will engage with the question posed by Vinod: Where does this prejudice come from? (more…)

Gujarat: What Miracle?

March 18, 2009

By Dipankar Gupta

[Note from The South Asian Idea: This article forms part of the series (Governance in Pakistan) on this blog that deals with issues of analysis. The preamble to this piece by Professor Dipankar Gupta is an article on Narendra Modi by Robert Kaplan in the April 2009 issue of Atlantic Monthly (India’s New Face). The bottom line of Kaplan’s article is that “Under Modi, Gujarat has become an economic dynamo.” Professor Gupta’s op-ed originally appeared in the Times of India on January 31, 2009 under the caption Credit Misplaced. Note how much difference it makes when all the evidence is taken into account and the starting point is not chosen arbitrarily. Note also the varying explanations for the same set of events. Readers are invited to join this discussion and give their opinion on which of these two analyses is more robust.]

Gujarat grew at approximately 12 percent in 2006-7 against India’s overall growth of about 8 percent that year. Fantastic, said Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and lauded Gujarat’s achievement. He must have stuttered on this praise, because all credit on this score would go to Narendra Modi.

But wait! What is so great about this statistic? In 1994-1995 Gujarat surged at the rate of 13.2 percent. Where was Narendra Modi then? In the years 1994-2001, Gujarat’s state domestic product registered a growth average of between 10 and 13 percent. At the tail end of this period Modi stepped in as Chief Minister. What then has Modi done that is so special?

Let us take a long look at Gujarat. This state was already among the top three in India by 1990. It took Gujarat 20 years after it was created in 1960 to climb up from the eighth rank to the third spot. Twenty years of hard work, led primarily by Congress governments, it may be added. Over 35 percent of its infrastructural augmentation for power generation happened between 1995 and 2000. If Gujarat today can show off its treasure chest, it should gratefully remember its pre-Modi past.

Besides other riches, Gujarat processes 49 percent of the country’s petroleum products. It also has India’s largest shipyard in Bhavnagar, as well as the giant Reliance refineries in Jamnagar. Even on something as pedestrian as Soda Ash, Gujarat is responsible for 90 percent of India’s production. All this happened well before Modi cut his political incisors.

So what is so dazzling about Gujarat’s current prosperity? Nothing really! In spite of decades of growth as usual, as much as 93 percent of Gujarat’s workforce toils in the informal sector. This is why growth is not always development. In fact, on the Human Development Index, Gujarat fell one place in 2003-2004, and now ranks below Kerala, Punjab, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In terms of rural prosperity Gujarat is at number five and well behind Punjab, the front ranker.

Now this is a hard one. Workers employed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme in Gujarat receive half of what their counterparts get elsewhere. Interestingly, this fact was recently released by a Parliamentary Committee headed by none other than Kalyan Singh, a one time BJP stalwart.

Ernst and Young, consultants for Vibrant Gujarat conclave of 2005, ranked Gujarat’s investment climate behind Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, and on par with Karnataka. In terms of Workforce Quality, however, the same professionals gave Gujarat a very average “B grade” as it failed to measure up on a number of counts. It may be recalled in this connection that the Asian Development Bank in 1996 had ranked Gujarat as number two in India in terms of its investment climate. But in 2005, it was rated at number five. Perhaps the 2002 riots had something to do with this. 

Why then does it seem that Modi invented Gujarat’s golden wheel when it was already spinning? There are probably two reasons for this.

The first is the simplistic assumption that all communalists are intellectual clunks who can’t hold two ends of a book together. Modi was read as a one-talent wonder, good at leading riots from the front, but little else. Hence, Gujarat would soon show negative economic figures and, before long, its heirloom would be up for sale. But when that did not happen, Modi’s skills at book keeping, rather than bloodletting, began to draw attention. Instead of serving just death by culture, Modi cleverly stirred Gujrati garv (pride) into the pot. This made the state’s usual growth rates taste nicely different.

It was Modi’s highly personalized executive style, rather than his tidy store minding that attracted Indian corporates. They gave as much thought to Gujarat slipping in the development index as they would a drain inspector’s report. What mattered to them was the manner of delivery. Modi did not just give Nano shelter, but also readied permits for Ratan Tata in three days flat. Democratic stage fright? Never heard of it! Here was a man who could bend the law at will, but you had to be good to him. Sweetening politicians is easier than playing by the book.

So when Modi welcomed private capital to Gujarat, many Indian entrepreneurs, big and small, rushed to his side. They had at last found the patron they always longed for. The one feature that has endured India’s liberalization regime is the way our native entrepreneurs crave for political goodwill and protection. It was not as if only the riff raff ran to Modi, the big shots did too. And some of them were regular four star generals of corporate governance. So much for Business Ethics!

True, Modi is partial to business, but this isn’t news either. Gujarat consistently attracted a disproportionate slice of India’s private investment. But Modi’s tune was hard to resist not because it was new but because he delivered it with a bang. The first to sing along was Anil Ambani. After splitting from his brother he found an uncle in Amar Singh. But today he is a card holding Modi groupie. In the Vibrant Gujarat conclave he even advocated him as India’s Prime Minister. Sunil Mittal soon joined in, and then the chorus began. CEO’s now look at Modi just as ancient Israelis must have looked at Moses.

Beauty, in such cases, does not lie in the eyes of the beholder. It rather lies in the eyes of the beholden.

Dipankar Gupta is Professor of Sociology at the Center for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

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Ahmedabad: Life in the City

January 18, 2009

What is the problem some might ask – Isn’t Ahmedabad still among the most dynamic cities in India growing economically at double-digit rates?

True enough, but there is something special about Ahmedabad; and the city is also changing in ways that warrant watching by those who are interested in the long term.

One person who has wondered about these changes is Professor Vrajlal Sapovadia who teaches in Ahmedabad and who has studied the impact of communal conflict on the life of the city.

The first fact Professor Sapovadia points out is that there are over 3000 urban locations in India but half the deaths in communal riots have occurred in just 8 cities that account for 18 percent of the India’s urban population and 6 percent of its total population. Of these 8 cities, Ahmedabad is among the main contributors. Given that Ahmedabad is the home of Gandhiji, the apostle of non-violence, this is a bit odd, isn’t it?

The conclusion is that communal conflict is not inherent in just the proximity of two communities. There are some places where, as Professor Sapovadia puts it, ‘sparks’ ignite much more readily into ‘fires’. If that is indeed the case, there is a clear need to study the reasons that abet this ignition more readily in some places than in others. Perhaps some useful lessons can come out of such a study.

The second point that Professor Sapovadia notes is that communal riots are changing the shape or the morphology of Ahmedabad: “The Muslims feel safer in their own ghettos and the same in true for the Hindus. The communal divide became more pronounced after each riot, but major riots of 1969, 1985, 1992 and 2002 made the divide much sharper…. There is a constant migration of Hindus and Muslims into the ghettos making the separation more apparent…. Segregation is not confined to the poor and middle classes. Even the elite areas are ghettoized.”

The effect of the communal conflict is reaching even further down to affect urban architecture: “The construction of houses is done in view of providing protection during communal riots. Therefore clashes along communal lines have been accepted and the people of the two communities are now mainly concerned about protecting themselves…. Often, ghettoization is promoted by the fact that Hindu/Muslim landlords simply refuse to rent out their houses to Muslim/Hindu tenants.”

The third impact on the city is the atmosphere of fear. Professor Sapovadia cites a study in Juhapura, now the largest Muslim settlement in Ahmedabad, where 56 percent of the respondents interviewed had been living in the area for less than 10 years: “This indicates a high level of migration or ghettoization in recent years.” Of the in-migrants, 46 percent had moved in from Hindu-dominated localities and 22 percent from areas with a mixed Hindu-Muslim population. “This clearly implies that fear and insecurity was the most important reason for their shifting of residence from one locality to another.”

This relocation has had a negative impact on the life chances of over 10 percent of the city’s population: “Migration and consequent ghettoization seems to have had a particularly deleterious impact on the economic condition of the [interview] respondents in Ahmedabad. Some 52 percent of the respondents in Ahmedabad said that their conditions had markedly declined after migration.” And this has consequences for future generations because “ghettoization of Muslims appears to have extremely deleterious impact on their overall economic and educational conditions.”

So, is the writing on the wall for all but the blind to see? Because, as Professor Sapovadia remarks on the consequences of segregation, “the lack of joint activities among the two communities has reduced the level of tolerance making Ahmedabad more prone to riots…. A large number of Ahmedabad respondents said that while before their migration they had frequent and fairly cordial relations with non-Muslims, this had markedly declined after migration.”

Professor Sapovadia refers to research by Ashutosh Varshney in suggesting that the antidote to communal disputes is an increase in ‘bridging’ capital (ties between ethnic groups) rather than ‘bonding’ capital (ties within ethnic groups). This is the factor that explains the marked difference in the incidence of communal violence across the various cities in India. But the dynamic that has been underway in Ahmedabad continues to erode the bridging capital in the city sapping the ties that hold people together.

So, what is in store for Ahmedabad? Double-digit growth that blinds the authorities to the changes beneath the surface till one day the city burns itself down in flames?

Given a choice, would you wish to live in a city with rapid economic growth but where sizable groups belonging to various communities live in ghettos in fear? Is it acceptable in the twenty-first century to have citizens of a city subjected to the insecurity and uncertainty of terror? Have we learnt nothing from the history of Europe in the twentieth century?

The paper by Professor Vrajlal Sapovadia (A Critical Study on Relations Between Inter-Communal/ Caste Ghettoism and Urbanization Patterns vis-à-vis Spatial Growth and Equity: A Case Study of Ahmedabad, India) is available here.

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Democracy in India – 3

June 2, 2008

We pick up where we left off in the previous post (Democracy in India – 2) on the subject of the introduction of the census in British India and its implications for the trajectory of political developments.

The objective is to show that the use of an administrative mechanism like the census is not neutral but has a definite purpose, is based on prior prejudice, and can have severe unintended consequences. For this interpretation we rely on the most recent writing available on the topic – In the Making: Identity Formation in South Asia by Kamaljit Bhasin-Malik, Three Essays Collective, New Delhi, 2007 ( 

The census was symptomatic of the Victorian urge to ‘know’, ‘classify’ and ‘count’. Census operations were not reserved just for the colonies. They were instituted in almost all European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries and were usually prompted by concerns about depopulation and increasing poverty. In Britain, the census was instituted… in 1800… [and] stressed two objectives. Firstly, to know accurately the current size of the population, and secondly, to know the trend of the population… in order to provide ‘correct knowledge’ of increasing or decreasing demands of subsistence’.

Significantly… the census in Britain never recorded data on religion, apart from one survey in 1851. This was despite the fact that in early nineteenth century Britain, religious affiliation mattered intensely… Until well into the nineteenth century the state awarded the right to vote on the basis of religious affiliation. Yet, however much religion may have informed British life, it was never imagined… as having the power to shape the entire society into opposed ‘communities’. One could argue that the project of nation-building that Britain was involved in at this time encouraged an emphasis on homogeneity and themes that united Britain.

In direct contrast to this, India had come to be understood as a land of ‘many nations’, and of ‘various and varying races’, as Disraeli described its people… As an article that appeared in The Times proclaimed, the basis of a ‘right understanding’ of Indian government ‘must be exact knowledge of the population not only as a whole, but in its manifold ethnographic, communal and geographic divisions; and this can be obtained only by a full and careful periodic enumeration.

This colonial understanding of India and Indian diversity, which gave centrality to religious community and caste, was institutionalized in the census.

We shall continue in the next post by documenting how religious categories were defined and the outcomes of this assignment of centrality to religion in the Indian census.

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Democracy in India – 2

May 31, 2008

In the first article of this series (Democracy in India – 1) we had highlighted the importance of the introduction of elective governance in India by the British, the choice of separate electorates based on religion, and its negative impact on communal relations.

The following quote from the Indian Statutory Commission in 1930 showed how religion was turned from a social distinction into a political one that mattered in terms of who got what:

So long as people had no part in the conduct of their government, there was little for members of one community to fear from the predominance of the other. The gradual introduction of constitutional reforms, however, had greatly stimulated communal tension as it aroused anxieties and ambitions among many communities by the prospect of their place in India’s future political set-up.

Thus “while the goal of achieving independence from British rule was never a point of disagreement, the distribution of political power between the Hindu and the Muslim communities in a future, free India became a continuous ‘apple of disord’.” We quoted the historian K.M. Pannikar as saying that “the introduction of the principle of elected representation in public institutions actively promoted the rising of communalism in India.”

The question that was left unaddressed in the above exposition was the logically prior one of identity. How and why did individuals in Indian society come to see themselves primarily as members of religious meta-communities, how did they understand the implication of their numerical strengths, and why did they fixate on religion as the most important marker of their identities?

In short, in trying to understand the history of politics in India we have arrived at the absolutely critical question of the dynamics of identity formation. It is critical because the understanding of identity was instrumental in both the modalities of electoral politics when it was introduced, and in how individuals reckoned their potential interests in the subsequent electoral game.

It is here that we make a surprising discovery and see how a seemingly innocuous administrative instrument like the census had such a profound influence on Indian history.

In his very insightful book (The Idea of India) Sunil Khilnani mentions that the British introduced the decennial census in India in a limited form in 1871. He describes how the census “expanded perceptions of the social scale of communities: individuals and groups living in far corners of the country could now conceive of themselves as being members of a single, large community”:

This made it possible for the first time to imagine a common nation of Indians. But the enumeration and classification of individuals into categories of caste and religion, and the introduction by the Raj of electorates divided along communal lines, also solidified exclusionary identities… Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, caste groups, paradoxically began to emerge as collective actors and to conflict with one another in the city itself, the putative arena of modernity.

Khilnani elaborates on this point:

After all, before the nineteenth century, no residents of the subcontinent would have identified themselves as Indian. There existed intricate, ramified vocabularies of common understanding, which classified people by communities of lineage, locality and sect; but ‘Indian’ would not have figured amongst its terms. Subcontinental society was hardly static, yet most people never ventured beyond their own or neighbouring localities. They knew little about each other and were uninterested in learning more, preferring to remain distant strangers in a land peopled in their imagination by marvelous and absurd ‘others’.

This is followed by an explanation of the emergence of reified meta-identities:

The Muslims of British India did not form a monolithic community with a single ‘communal’ identity or interest any more than the Hindus did. Class and region divided as much as religion might unite, and beliefs about community and interest varied between provinces where Muslims were in a majority and those where they were not. (The terminology of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ was itself an inescapable imposition of the political accountancy of the Raj.)

It is interesting to think what the nature of national politics in India might have been without the census. And how might national politics have evolved if the census had not collected information on the religious preferences of the inhabitants of India.

This is a sobering thought for social scientists who think of survey instruments as harmless devices available to collect all sorts of useful information about a given set of respondents not fully informed about how that information might subsequently be used.   

We will continue our investigations into the role of the census in British India in a subsequent post. 

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